Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was known to common Filipinos when he made the announcement about a possible Presidential run back in 2016. His “speaking tour” about federalism was actually a listening tour. He wanted to get first-hand information on the people’s gripes. More important back then, the public had had it with then President Noynoy Aquino and then Interior Secretary Mar Roxas. It was one fiasco after the other beginning with the Luneta hostage incident. I’m not one into the paranormal but it seemed to me that while Aquino becoming President was ominous what with the death of his mother, former President Cory Aquino, paving the way for him, fate was playing a cruel trick by making him look incredibly stupid with each fiasco. It was like karma finally caught up with their family.
Duterte crafted his message simply. He didn’t make it convoluted. He spoke to the people in a manner they understood and he did so making it appear that he was one of them. He had the Presidency in the bag after the first debate. While messaging is important, the candidate’s natural charisma is key. For example, former Defense Secretary and 2010 presidential candidate Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro is well-qualified and experienced for any national elective post but his biggest problem is he doesn’t connect with voters. Most perceive him to be stiff. Sosyal. It doesn’t help that his wife is more stiff and more sosyal than him. A political operator’s problem is how to repackage Gibo so he is saleable. Same with Senator Ping Lacson. Lacson always has that stern demeanor. That turns off voters who want to see someone as both a father figure and the neighborhood kanto boy who’s friend to everyone in the community. Duterte checks those boxes as well.
Lacson comes off as effeminate with his metrosexual image. I’ve seen him up close in the 90s when I frequented Cebu and he was regional commander. Even his jeans are pressed. Manicured hands. Lacoste shirt. No hair out of place. Smells very good. Fair complexion. Sartorial dresser. Expensive watch. Messaging is nothing if you don’t connect with your audience. The masa can smell a fake a mile away. Look at how after five years Vice President Leni Robredo is nowhere near as popular as Duterte. Yellowidiots consistently paint Duterte as a dumbass but his vocabulary reveals he is well-read never mind his thick Bisaya accent. Can the same be said of Leni who can’t even get her thoughts in order? Genuine sincerity is hard to fake. Danding Cojuangco hated public speaking. But in a campaign rally, Danding knew how to work the crowds. This came from his experience in Tarlac. But during the debate for the 1992 election, he didn’t do well because he always froze in front of the camera. It didn’t help that perception of him was very bad to begin with.
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Unfortunately for the Opposition, their “thought leaders” like PhilSTAR columnist Andrew J Masigan in his piece “Political messaging and creating a tribe” habitually oversimplify the factors in play that contribute to winnability…
My good friend and colleague in this paper, Boo Chanco, was correct when he said that the strength of a candidate’s social media trolls will determine who will become president in 2022. Trolls are today’s version of mass media, albeit without credibility. They are the preachers of a candidate’s “gospel.”
But just as important as the trolls are the messages they relay. As one who has studied the science of political messaging, let me share with you the inner workings of messaging in the context of a presidential campaign. I speak from experience, having been privy to a number of messaging programs of political leaders.
Political messaging is all about the 4P’s – Positioning, Philosophy, Proposition and Promise. The main objective of the 4P’s is to create a “tribe” of followers who display allegiance to their candidate and what he/she stands for.
The Opposition has bigger problems than what Chanco and Masigan have expounded on. Not all Filipinos who are on social media are trolls. Those who possess an excellent political gut feel swear by the sentiments expressed as genuine. There is no better proof than Mocha Uson. Her five million followers couldn’t get her elected as party-list representative. That’s because the following wasn’t 100% real and she didn’t know how to play that game. The Presidential endorsement she got couldn’t get her the win.
In 1987, we were made to believe that Cory was so popular that only Juan Ponce Enrile and Joseph “Erap” Estrada made it as the opposition candidates in the Senate. Truth is, they were the only two who couldn’t be cheated out of office. There’s more to campaigns than just simple messaging or social media presence. On election day you need to have a capable ground operation in place to bring out the vote and ensure you aren’t cheated. You have to make sure that the barangay captains who have taken monies deliver. We will have a better idea of what the state of the opposition is on June 12. That would be a good barometer as to the direction they’re headed in.
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